GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The Holy Cities: a Visual rePresentation
Paper Proposal Text :
Holy Cities of Islam, Makka and al-Madina have always been imprinted in the memories of Muslims for centuries. Even non-Muslim travellers and explorers made far reaching attempts to demystify the enigma of the Holy cities of Islam. Over the centuries, various modes of visual representations “recorded” a visual imprint of these two cities in the collective social memory.
The pilgrimage journey was for centuries the only means to experience these scared places and acquire glimpses (both intellectual and objective) of their spiritual and spatial character. As early as the 17th century, references to the architectural iconography of the two holy sanctuaries started to emerge in books by Western scholars. For instance, the Austrian architect Fischer Von Erlach produced two of the earliest European pictorial representations of Makka and al-Madina in his book Entwurf einer Historischen Architektur, although visual representation of both cities started well before that, as early as the 11th century.
Material to be explored will include various modes of representation such as medieval maps, manuscript and book illustrations, and pictorial representations. Certainly, emergence of photography marked a shift in the way the holy sanctuaries were represented in ways never were experienced before. Photographic representation transcended the great distances that separated the holy cities from other places around the world. The power of image persisted even in the memories of those who never experienced the sacred places first hand. Also, vernacular and colloquial representation, such as wall murals or textile weaving, flourished to visually represent the spiritual bond to the holy sanctuaries.
Visual representation is, among other things, a mirror of a place’s character and identity. The evolving cyclical reciprocity between reality and perception is the springboard for the subject of this paper. Thus, the fundamental question this paper asks is: How the consecutive waves of visual representation of the two sanctuaries shaped the perception of their urban, spatial and architectural identity, and how this established perception reciprocally compares to the acquired urban/spatial character of the two sanctuaries after undergoing rapid cycles of urbanization, especially recently.
On this basis, an urban visual identity case to be explored is the perpetual image of the city of al-Madina with the Prophet’s Mosque and sanctuary historically embedded in its immediate urban environment. The drastic urban developments of the core area of al-Madina have totally changed the perpetual image the city, which it acquired historically. Particularly, the eradication of the traditional urban fabric diminished the spatial depth of the core area around the Prophet’s Mosque, along with the opportunity for a rich haptic and visual experience of a walker or onlooker who, instead, would simply experience the Prophet’s Mosque standing monumentally within this new realm, but totally detached from the urban fabric of the city that used to be integral to it.
According to Merleau-Ponty, perception is a behaviour shaped not by consciousness but by the body, as lived and living body, not by the body as a piece of the physical world (or a mechanical system influenced by the physical world around it). Therefore, the perpetual visual identity of the place will be explored based on a “track record” of images and visual representations in order to establish the quality and richness of the visual/haptic experience of the urban fabric and its visual texture/identity (before-and-after). Hopefully, addressing this “softer“ aspect of our urban visual identity would influence the design decision-making process as much as other so-called hard issues of a more technical nature, and help conserve the urban visual identity and prevent it from vanishing into complete oblivion.